CARDIFF, 18 Oct - An outstanding performance by Argentina ended Ireland's Rugby World Cup 2015 dream under the Millennium Stadium roof in an enthralling contest on Sunday.

The Pumas looked to have the game won after 22 minutes as they led 20-3, but Ireland hauled themselves back into contention to trail by just three points early in the second half. However, late tries from full-back Joaquin Tuculet and wing Juan Imhoff (pictured above) - his second of the match - rounded off a stunning victory for Daniel Hourcade's exciting young team. Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez was imperious with the boot, kicking 23 points.

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Argentina led 20-10 at half-time, although that bald statistic does not begin to tell the story of the huge shock the Pumas inflicted on Ireland with a brace of superb tries in the opening 10 minutes, scored by Matias Moroni and Imhoff. 

With just two minutes gone, ground gained deep in the Irish 22 from a high kick taken superbly by Leonardo Senatore under Irish pressure, the Pumas recycled the ball until it went wide to Moroni on the right and he went over for the first try, converted by Sanchez.

Playing with an assuredness not matched by a nervous looking Ireland team, Argentina again attacked that right-wing channel where a Juan Martin Hernandez kick infield was chased down by Juan Imhoff, who touched down as he slid towards the dead-ball line with centimetres to spare.

Ireland reeled and wing Tommy Bowe became their latest player to depart the field on the medical wagon.

Yellow card

Driven on by the massive Irish support in the stands, Ireland continued to attack the Pumas line but with little penetration until a yellow card for Ramiro Herrera after a dangerous tackle on Ireland fly-half Ian Madigan gave Ireland the chance to take possession from a lineout five metres from the Pumas line.

A penalty awarded in front of the sticks then gave Ireland the chance to open their account only after referee Jerome Garces had called back Madigan when he had taken a quick tap and crossed the try-line, much to the disappointment of the huge Irish presence in the 72,316 crowd.

Ireland continued to struggle to get across the gainline despite superior numbers and a turnover on the halfway became a penalty for illegal entry 30m out and the Pumas continued the scoreboard ticking over to make it 20-3.

Escape route

Only when Luke Fitzgerald, Bowe’s replacement, scored a try after 27 minutes – converted by Ian Madigan – could the Irish begin to sense a possible route back into the match.

With Argentina having carried for almost double the number of metres of Ireland in the first half they began after the break where they left off but a more composed Irish defence held firm despite being pushed back.

They took advantage of two penalties to move into the Argentine half, where Fitzgerald sliced through the Pumas midfield after a lineout 30m out and was able to offload to Jordi Murphy, who went over to the left of the posts. After the conversion Ireland were back in the match, just three points behind.

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With almost 60 minutes gone, and possession still proving a transient beast, a knock-on became a penalty after a ruck infringement but Madigan was unable to level the scores. 

Ireland were kicking for position, while Argentina were intent on running the ball and racking up the metres, but a penalty for a head-high tackle sent the gap bouncing back to six points.

Broken hearts

After a sustained period, with and without the ball, camped in the Irish half, Argentina's constant forays through the gainline finally led to an overlap on the left and, despite having to reach over the top of an Irish tackler, Tuculet touched down to break Irish hearts.

Sanchez then ensured Ireland needed two converted tries for victory.

Chasing the game saw the gaps in the Ireland line widen further and a swift Argentine move from inside their own half saw Imhoff break through, 30m out, with nothing but the line ahead and his swan dive for his second try landed them in the semi-finals.

Injuries and missing personnel had taken their toll on Ireland but Argentina were playing with a new maturity.

Man of the match Sanchez was on target all day and his final penalty, after 76 minutes, gave Argentina a resounding and deserved 43-20 victory.

RNS ajr/ns/sw